How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Oxford Reflections

England in early April was more beautiful than I expected. Being from a southern clime, I thought that northern countries would still be gray so nigh to winter. But England was sunny, green, and in full bloom when I arrived. White blossoming trees, resembling suspended snow, mixed with their cousins’ young, emerald leaves in the fields of the middle counties, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Pink magnolias graced cultivated homes and college gardens. Flowers of every color were out, most noticeably white and yellow daffodils, red and pink tulips, and indigo hyacinths and muscari.

I am a plant person (though, to my sorrow, my thumbs are brown), so these beauties made me ecstatic. England’s natural loveliness praises God for His artistry. It also provided a paradisiacal backdrop to our class and tour. The weather cooperated, too, and held off the usual rain, except during our afternoon in Cambridge, Oxford’s rival university town—as an Oxford local quipped (I paraphrase), “Really? It didn’t rain here in Oxford. Well, that’s Cambridge for you.”

This class had me excited for months in advance, and I knew it would be marvelous, but I didn’t expect how deeply the actual week would thrill and satisfy me. Our leader and teacher, Douglas Bond, is extremely knowledgeable about the Bible, history, literature, and the writing craft, and very helpful and encouraging to budding writers. He gave us more than just writing tips—he showed us how to use all of life, including history, the arts, food, people, great literature, and the Bible as contributors to our writing. We studied gifted men and women who used their words in noble ways, men and women who became real to us as we saw their homes and churches and paths, and who inspired us as Mr. Bond read us their work. We took home a hefty reading list and a burning desire to write for God’s glory as these people did.

We also took home new friendships, although these have to be carried on long-distance. My classmates are wonderful people; we had such an amazing time together! We could share anything and everything about our stories at anytime, and whenever we had something to say, we could always be sure of a sympathetic and interested listener. With designated hours of reading aloud and critiquing in the cozy sitting room of the house we stayed in, we garnered fans and allies. All of us possess deep-seated love for God and writing, firm foundations for relationships.

As Christian writers, we learned we have an advantage—we have the whole picture of truth, which inspires and informs our writing. But, as C. S. Lewis put it, “Don’t write what people want, don’t write what you think they need; write what you need.”

I bet you’re ready for some pictures now!

Image: Amanda Cannon Photography

Our group plus two friends (and a photo-bomber in the doorway) and minus our wonderful photographer, in front of the Eagle and Child pub, famous for being a meeting place for the Inklings, C. S. Lewis's and J. R. R. Tolkien's writing club." We ate there twice.

One of my picturesque meals at the Eagle and Child: steak and ale pie. 

The pub celebrates its connection with the iconic Oxford authors.

Just one of many atmospheric cubbies in the pub, the Rabbit Room was a frequent spot for the Inklings to cozy up and discuss writing and literature.

Image: Amanda Cannon Photography
Our class spent time in countless remarkable places like this one, the eating hall in Balliol College, Oxford. This moment was our first writing tutorial; minutes later we penned our impressions of the hall, reflecting on the famous men who ate there—most notably John Wycliffe in the 14th century, an Oxford student and later a master.

Amanda Cannon Photography
I did a lot of this during the week—scribbling away in the notebook that companioned me everywhere! Here, we're in the sunny garden of Balliol College.

All these photos are in Balliol College, where gorgeousness abounds. We visited several different colleges, but I think this one had the best landscaping.

Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral of the diocese of Oxford, where we heard a heavenly evensong.

Oxford rooftops from St. Michael's Tower. St. Michael at the North Gate church is the oldest building in Oxford, from 1000-1050. Unfortunately I didn't get a good picture of the building itself. (Rueful head shake.) 

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room for Oxford's Bodleian Library, and a favorite study location for students.

These last four photos are of Merton College, where J. R. R. Tolkien taught English language and literature. Merton is one of the three oldest colleges in the University of Oxford, established during the 13th century . . . can you image teaching or even learning in an institution that's almost one thousand years old? That intricate sculpture (top picture) that looks like it came from Narnia or Middle Earth is above Merton's gatehouse.

This post is growing longer and longer, but I still have so many more pictures to share! Stay tuned for another post featuring C. S. Lewis haunts.


  1. I loved seeing these pictures and am looking forward to your next post about Lewis' haunts! :-) That quote from him in your post came at the perfect time for me ~ Thanks!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Alicia! I'm glad you enjoyed these pictures and the quote. That was one of the most impacting quotes I wrote down from this trip. :)